NAB, Affiliates: Supremes Need to End Aereo's 'Free Ride'

The National Association of Broadcasters and the major network affiliate associations are squarely behind ABC, their network partners and studios as they do battle with Aereo in the Supreme Court.

Amicus briefs were due to the court Monday in the case of ABC et al. v. Aereo, and NAB et al. made their case for why Aereo must be stopped, or else.

Free, quality over-the-air broadcasting is a public good, recognized by Congress, that should not be taken for granted, or taken by others without compensation, they told the court. Or else the business model goes away, and, potentially along with it, life-saving local news and information.

They agree with ABC et al. that Aereo is trying to exploit a loophole in copyright law that does not exist, using a technological work-around that turns it into a de facto MVPD subject to copyright payments, which Aereo does not pay.

"Aereo seeks to subvert a carefully constructed legal framework with a technological gimmick," they argue. "If the Court were to hold that Aereo’s deliberately wasteful and inefficient system can successfully circumvent the plain meaning and purpose of the Copyright Act, it would strike a serious blow to the institution of free and innovative broadcast television."

Aereo provides remote servers and mini-antennas for each customer, arguing that is simply a technological advance on the rooftop antennas that consumers are entitled to use to receive free TV station signals, and the recording and access rights they have under the Cablevision and Betamax decisions.

Broadcasters say that the Rube Goldberg-like system does not prevent the result from being a public performance subject to copyright payments. 

If the court allows that regime to stand, say broadcasters, the danger to their business model is clear and present.

They argue it would undermine the value of advertising, their largest revenue stream; "impair" their ability to negotiate for their second-largest revenue stream, retrans fees; cause a migration of popular free, over-the-air network programming to pay platforms; and interfere with authorized online streaming.

The broadcasters drew a distinction between the "wasteful free-riding" of Aereo and the "genuine innovation" in online video represented by Hulu and Netflix.

Aereo's brief is due March 26, with amicus briefs due April 2 and oral argument scheduled for April 22.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.